Bun B addressing the first-ever UGK Convention
Bun B’s Trill is a good rap album. Sometimes it’s great: the painfully complete weary honestly of “The Story,” the unexpectedly sunny burst of playful Miami bass on “Git It,” the incomparable joy of hearing Chamillionaire and Paul Wall right next to each other on the “Draped Up” remix. But it’s not the album we were waiting for, the long-delayed solo debut of one of the greatest rappers of all time, a guy who has endured more than a decade of regional marginalization, record-label cluelessness, and personal upheaval on his long climb to the top of the rap world, someone whose tireless work ethic and authoritative eloquence and grizzled presence have finally brought him into a position where everyone in rap owes him favors, where his supremacy is universally recognized and the respect he’s long earned finally being granted. Trill should be a revelation, the defining document in Houston’s moment of rap-landscape dominance and the definitive showcase of a guy who’s been breathing rap and accumulating experience since the South was a rap wasteland. Instead, it comes off as a pretty good album from a strong B-list rapper with a lot of powerful friends, a patchwork hodgepodge of obligatory guest appearances and semi-inspired thug-talk. The weak moments almost outnumber the great ones: the cartoon-squeak Jazze Pha track, the ridiculous “Hail to the Chief” sample on “The Inauguration,” the inexplicable guest appearance from dumbshit Transplant Skinhead Rob.
And then there’s “Get Throwed.” On paper, it probably should be the rap song of the year: a beat from H-Town rumbler Mr. Lee, a hook from Southern legend Z-Ro, and verses from Bun, Pimp C, Young Jeezy, and Jay-Z. It’s the sort of collection of talent that seems assembled with the specific intention of making my brain explode, like if Ian MacKaye did a song with Corin Tucker and Craig Finn and John Darnielle. I first heard it about a week ago on DJ Envy & Lenny S’s We Gets Busy Pt. 4 mixtape, where it was listed simply as “Intro,” and I immediately started scouring the internet to figure out if this was a real, actual new song with new verses or whether some enterprising DJ had just slapped together a few undiscovered verses from these guys. I got so caught up freaking myself out about this song’s mere existence that it took a few listens for me to notice that it’s not actually a good song.
Mr. Lee’s beat is a world away from some of the monster bangers he’s put together for Slim Thug, impossibly huge tracks like “3 Kings” and “Diamonds.” “Get Throwed” is a clumsy, lumbering thing, a few pretty cursive synth flourishes floating above over flimsily overproduced metal guitar crunches and anemic drums. Z-Ro’s voice sounds amazing, heavy and tired and throaty, but his crooned hook doesn’t quite match up with the beat, and that voice is much better-suited for bluesy elegies than banalities about good weed/good drank/big money. The whole track, in fact, is oddly ground-down and deflated; it sounds like it just got done with a long day at work. And it has album track written all over it; I can’t figure out why Bun would use it to showcase the biggest guests on his album.
All of the rappers on the song sound uninspired, but Pimp C at least has an excuse: he’s been in prison for a few years now. His verse was recorded before prison, before the beat was made and before Bun had a solo album in the works; the datedness of its references proves its age: “Pimp C, PA trill nigga / Polo, fuck that Hilfinger.” It’s a decent verse, grainy nasal rasp stretching out syllables almost until they break, but there’s a reason Pimp didn’t use the verse before going to prison. Bun, for his part, inexplicably shanks his verse. It should be a triumphant moment for him, and he should be giving us one of those breathless demonstrations of virtuosity that he’s been putting on other rappers’ records for years now, but no; it’s an ugly clump of inelegantly clumped syllables and lunkhead misogyny: “A bitch know I might just explode / And slap her in the face with a pie a la mode.” Huh? This is the wrong moment for Bun to be sleepwalking, like when Shawn Marion fell apart during the Suns/Spurs playoff series this year. Jeezy talks the same trap-star game he always talks, and it’s starting to lose its appeal; there’s only so many ways he can say that he knows how to cook crack, you know? He needs one of those indestructible regionless beats like he had on his album to sound superhuman, and he doesn’t have that here. Jay’s double-time verse has a nice, crisp precision, but even he remains uninspired, saying the same stuff he’s been saying on virtually every verse lately: “Started with the block, did it brick by brick / Then I charted with the Roc, nigga, hit by hit.” He’s not giving us anything new, not showing any of that casual mastery he usually displays effortlessly.
I’ve talked about this before, but every post-retirement Jay-Z verse is an event; it gets automatic heavy radio play and mixtape burn, and it makes dorks like me lean in hard to our radios and strain to catch every syllable. One guest spot went a long way toward turning Jeezy into a star. Even when he’s not quite on, even if this coming-down-from-the-mountaintop is tiresome and vaguely condescending, it’s a blessing to get his voice on a song these days, and any rapper who can get that look needs to make the most of it. Bun has been giving it all on mixtapes and guest appearances like a fool lately, and he deserves to cash in his chips right now, so it’s truly puzzling that he just let this one slip away.